Respected Catholic blogger Rocco Palmo writes, ”With the European outbreak of sex-abuse scandals turning a renewed focus on the Vatican and its response, today’s edition of the “Papal Paper” — the Holy See’s daily L’Osservatore Romano – features a significant, prominently-placed piece on the presence of women (or lack thereof) in church governance… and how, even with full regard for the integrity of orders as-is, an enhanced adherence to papal teaching on a female role in the “decision-making spheres” could’ve impacted matters to a more salutary end.
Women and men in today’s church
A collaboration ancient and new
by Lucetta ScaraffiaThe changes in Western society that have allowed women to occupy spaces previously reserved only to men — changes that are influencing other cultures in the world — have provoked a revolution in the configuration of gender roles, also placing before the Catholic church the question of enlarging the role of women. It brings up a problem of equality on which the Christian tradition has been quite clear since its origins, sparking an authentic revolution in the clashes over ways of conceiving sexual differences. In its time, this radical change originated contemporaneously with the feminist revolution in Western society. But if, in centuries past, the church showed itself more open than the secular world in confronting the issue of woman, today the situation is turned on its head, and the external and internal pressure is strong and urgent for the Catholic world to tackle it.Until now, the Catholic response has been articulated above all on the theoretical plain, whereas in secular society changes were theorized as they were taking place and, therefore, there was little awareness of the risks that many of these revolutionary innovations could bring about, for example, the demographic collapse. The Church’s posture offers an initial advantage, because the trajectory by which it must move to a greater feminine presence is clear: John Paul II’s Mulieris dignitatem indeed reminded us that women must be attributed roles of equal importance, albeit of different nature, to those of men in the life of the Church, a principle likewise recalled by Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in his Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and the World.The problem, however, is that this important theoretical articulation was not also followed up with as clear a transformation in the female participation in the life of the church, or at least, a participation which, even if significantly broadened, has been almost always kept outside the spheres of decision-making, and the areas of cultural expression. It can be understood, then, that the stress on exclusion — often without merit and subtle though it is — can be felt. It is not just a problem of social justice, or of “equal opportunity,” for the church thus often risks not yielding fruit or of making a contribution of prime importance.One example suffices: in the sorrowing and shameful situations in which the molestation and sexual abuse by ecclesiastics on the young entrusted to them come to light, we can hypothesize that a greater, non-subordinated feminine presence would have been able to rip the veil of the code of masculine silence ["omertà"] that in the past often covered over in silence the denunciation of misdeeds. Indeed, women, religious and lay, would be by nature more inclined to the defense of the young in cases of sexual abuse, ridding the church of the evils that these guilty attitudes have procured for it.
In some way, this was perceived in the second half of the nineteenth century by Daniele Comboni, who was beatified and canonized by John Paul II. Assuming the highly-difficult task of organizing the Christian missions in the present-day Sudan, where almost no European had previously adventured, he quickly understood that his project couldn’t be realized without the presence of women religious. He sought then, amid thousands of difficulties, to found a congregation of female missionaries prepared to place themselves in very savage and dangerous locales. His choice was motivated by many reasons: religious women, in fact, were tougher and inserted themselves more easily into different cultural contexts.
The great missionary was likewise convinced that the presence of Western women alongside that of his male missionaries would help to maintain appropriate behavior, and above all would keeep them from violating the vow of chastity, a danger not infrequent in isolated places, where sexual promiscuity, and above all power-roles in interacting with women and children rendered the temptation likely. Comboni wrote, in fact, that the sister is “essential” for the missions, because “she is a defense and a guarantee for the missionary.” This historical example indicates a possibility, realizable among many others, of the collaboration and reciprocal aid that women and men can exchange in the life of the church in the service of the human person. In fact, it’s almost non existent among congregations that along with a male branch also exists a female one: a sign of that intuition that foresees in the specific role of the consecrated woman a gift that only she is able to bring.
The Catholic Church could have avoided much of the scandal that currently surrounds it if women had been in positions of power, says first female Editor of Vatican newspaper.
Pope Benedict XVI holds a mass at Saint Peter’s Basilica June 29, in the Vatican. The Catholic Church could have avoided much of the scandal that currently surrounds it if women had been in positions of power, says a feminist insider in the Church.
Journalist and historian Lucetta Scaraffia is the founder of a new women’s supplement for the Vatican’s official newspaper and a campaigner for women’s rights in the male-dominated institution.
The scandals that have engulfed the Vatican would not have happened if women had been in charge, she argues.
In the wake of a series of clerical sex abuse affairs that have swept through the Church, she has pushed for women to teach in seminaries to give future priests the social and cultural skills to help them handle celibacy.
“The paedophilia scandal was almost exclusively male,” she told AFP, at her book-lined apartment in the Parioli quarter of Rome.
“If there had been women in positions of power they would not have allowed those things to happen.
“Women have long been reputed as sexually dangerous. But it’s clear that the danger lay with men and children,” she said.
Scaraffia says the new insert she edits in the 150-year-old Vatican newspaper, the Osservatore Romano, has ruffled feathers, despite having the support of Pope Benedict XVI.
“There are those who say ‘I have not read it’,” said the 64-year-old journalist.
“They don’t want to say it’s not good. they prefer to say ‘it doesn’t interest me.’ The indifference is terrible.”
But, she added: “It was the pope who decided to have women work at the Osservatore Romano.”
The Osservatore Romano newspaper, founded in 1861, only opened its doors to female journalists in 2008.
But despite the pope’s backing for what has been described by the Osservatore Romano as a move “to give voice to the value that women bring to the Church,” Scaraffia said she was fighting a lonely battle.
“There is misogyny in the Church,” she said.
“It’s a closed world, caught up with issues of power. Many in the clergy are afraid that if women come onto the scene there will be less room for them.”
Her comments come as the Vatican watchdog struggles to bring radical nuns in the United States back into line.
In May, the Vatican released a report accusing the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which represents most US nuns, of “radical feminism” and not focusing enough on fighting gay marriage and abortion.
But pockets of rebellious clergy across the world have also called for women to be allowed to play a more prominent role in the Church.
“It’s not possible to go on like this,” said Scaraffia. “Women in the Church are angry!”
The “Vatileaks” affair currently rocking the Holy See was another crisis that could have been avoided if women had occupied leading roles inside the institution, Scaraffia said.
In this affair, secret papal documents have been leaked to the media in what many observers have described as a power struggle between rival factions inside the Vatican.
“If there were women with authority in the Church, nothing would be leaked,” she said. “Women are freer because they do not have such thoughts of power.”
Scaraffia became an ardent feminist when she lost her faith in the 1960s, only to return to the Church 20 years ago.
But while she may be a feminist, her stance on key Church issues is staunchly Catholic: she opposes abortion and defends the celibacy of the priesthood.
Some religious observers believe the support she receives from the pontiff and her new-found influence as editor of the women’s supplement may help give the issues surrounding female roles in the Church extra prominence.
Scaraffia also believes the aged Benedict is changing attitudes to scandal within the Church by tackling the Holy See’s long-standing policy of secrecy.
The pope “is very alone and has a very difficult papacy because all the problems which were hidden have now come to light… problems which took root in the Church 30 or 50 years ago,” she said.
Benedict was accused of being too slow to react to the sex abuse scandal, but he has launched an inquiry to get to the bottom of the leaks scandal.
“He has the courage to see things as they are,” she said.
“We have always covered scandals up, he lets them come to light. Many people believe it is better to hide things. He says the Church is not protected by silence,” she added.
“He thinks that, for purification, there needs to be shame.”